Spain joins the space race: Launch of rocket named after fighting bull sees country join exclusive club of nations to blast into the heavens
- The private launch follows two unsuccessful attempts in May and June this year
Spain today joined an exclusive club of countries to launch a private rocket into space, successfully lifting off from a site in Huelva.
PLD Space launched its reusable Miura-1 rocket early on Saturday before landing as planned in the Atlantic Ocean.
The startup’s test launch came after two previous attempts were scrubbed, offering new hope for the country’s stalled space ambitions.
Mission control video showed engineers cheering as the Miura – named after a breed of fighting bull – soared to a height of 28.6 miles (46km) during its 306-second flight.
‘My voice is shot after so much shouting,’ said a triumphant Raul Torres, CEO of PLD Space, shortly after the launch.
He said all rocket systems worked ‘perfectly’, adding that the company would now focus on tripling its workforce. ‘This is just the beginning.’
Age of Exploration: Spain shoots for the stars with a launch from Huelva, reviving Europe’s space ambitions
The success of today’s mission paves the way for PLD Space to develop its Miura-5
The Miura-1 rocket, a prototype of a future satellite launcher, is as tall as a three-storey building and is capable of carrying 220lbs (100kg) of cargo.
From here, PLD Space will look to develop the larger Miura-5 – ‘Big Brother’ – with commercial capacity to put objects weighing up to 1190.5lbs (540kg) into orbit.
Saturday’s mission is the latest of the company’s three attempts to launch a rocket from Spain, taking off from the National Institute of Aerospace Technology (INTA).
In May, plans were dashed due to high-altitude winds.
In June, a second attempt failed when umbilical cables in the avionics bay did not all release in time, halting the lift off as smoke and flames spewed from the rocket.
Raul Torres, co-founder of PLD Space said on Saturday: ‘We have gone through many difficulties. Not only technical but, obviously, also financial and corporate.
‘Over time we have added people who have trusted us. Our wonderful team has made it a reality that each and every one of us is here today.
‘We have contributed the best of ourselves to get to this point.’
Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez posted on social media: ‘The launch of the Miura 1, the first rocket with 100% Spanish technology, has been a success.
‘A milestone that positions Spain’s research and development at the forefront of space transportation.’
‘Vamos MIURA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ PLD Space wrote on X.
Airspace, areas of the sea and roads were closed around the high-security launch site ahead of the launch on Saturday.
It was the first of two scheduled suborbital missions for the Miura-1.
The rocket landed in the Atlantic Ocean after opening its main parachute and will be recovered later today, PLD Space said in a statement.
From there, the rocket will be moved to Teruel in Aragon, eastern Spain, where test results can be fully broken down.
Analysts say the most critical test will be the development of orbital services on the Miura-5, planned for 2025.
With the launch, Spain joins an exclusive club of ten countries that has access to space via a private company and from continental soil – according to El Pais.
The list includes the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, Italy, India, South Korea and New Zealand.
Britain also has the capability to launch objects into orbit with its own launch vehicles, becoming the sixth nation to successfully conduct an orbital launch in 1971.
At the height of the Cold War, the UK followed the USSR, the USA, France, Japan and China in firing its Black Arrow into space from Woomera, Australia.
Pedro Duque became the first Spaniard to go into space in a mission with the European Space Agency, launching from Florida in October 1998.
In recent years, Europe’s effort to develop capabilities to send small satellites into space have slowed.
In January, Virgin Orbit failed to successfully launch an orbital rocket from Cornwall.
The satellite launch company, founded by billionaire Richard Branson, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April as it struggled to secure long-term funding following the failed launch.
That system involved releasing the launcher from a converted Boeing 747.
Competitors lining up to join the race to launch small payloads include companies in Scotland, Sweden and Germany.
In July, the last launch of Europe’s largest rocket, the premier Ariane 5 space launcher, took place at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The ‘European spaceport’ in French Guiana is situated to the north of the overseas department, which is in South America.
With the launch, Spain joins an exclusive club of ten countries that has access to space via a private company and from continental soil – according to El Pais
The rocket landed in the Atlantic Ocean after opening its main parachute and will be recovered later today
Europe has until recently depended on Ariane 5 and its 11-tonne-plus capacity for heavy missions, as well as Russia’s Soyuz launcher for medium payloads and Italy’s Vega, which is also launched from Kourou, for small ones.
The end of Ariane 5 has left Europe with virtually no autonomous access to space until its successor, Ariane 6, is launched.
Russia halted access to Soyuz in response to European sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine, the upgraded Vega-C has been grounded for technical reasons, and Ariane 6 is delayed until next year.
The European Space Agency said last week that Vega-C would not return to service until the fourth quarter of 2024, following a failed mission last December.
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